Sicilian Style Cauliflower: I thought I’d bring you a warm and seasonal, comforting cauliflower recipe. It’s full of bold flavors like lemon and anchovies. It’s got breadcrumbs to give it a satisfying crunch, and it’s roasted in the oven. Making this a very easy winter recipe. You might even see it as a healthier, cheeseless gratin.
But I gotta tell ya, the weather has been so spectacular in Los Angeles lately. It’s hard to focus on winter vegetables when it is nearly 80 degrees with blue skies and blinding sunshine.
But focus we must. So during this week’s trip to the Hollywood Farmers Market, I trained my lens on cauliflower. Mark Twain once quipped it was ”a cabbage with a college education”. Today they’d just say it was part of the “elite, liberal establishment”. But Ivy League or no, cauliflower is another wonderful vegetable often given the cold shoulder by cooks.
Love it or hate it you may, but you cannot deny that cauliflower is very versatile. It has a wonderful mellow quality to it and just like broccoli and cabbage (crucifers), it is easily influenced by whatever other tastes you choose to pair with it.
So it is very difficult for me to understand all the misunderstandings surrounding this vegetable. It has come in and out of vogue many times in its nearly 600-year culinary service to mankind. It may have its roots in the Far East, but it made its way to the Mediterranean where it caught on and became a staple for a very long time.
But its fortunes also rose in Flemish society in the 1600’s (note its prominent placement atop the carrots here in the Joachim Beuckelaer masterpiece) and then again became the all the rage of the French court. Louis XV’s mistress, La Comtesse du Barry had a consomme of veal, oxtails and cauliflower named after her. She was considered very fashionable.
In mid-century America the cauliflower became almost despised. You could find it on relish trays, buried under cheese sauces, or baked into oblivion in gratins. But it was not a vegetable of high esteem– like say the baked potato, boiled potato, fried potato, mashed potato or the ever-popular scalloped potato.
But George Bush the First may have delivered the lowest blow of all to my good friend the crucifer. In 1990, in an interview, he trumpeted the fact that one of the great perks of office was that he didn’t have to eat them anymore. Ouch!
Though cauliflower is very good raw and crunchy it is also almost impossible to overcook (if handled well). This is an interesting bit of information. Which contributes to its versatile nature.
A lot of people say they don’t know what to do with it. So they end up boiling it into a bland mush and trying to resuscitate it with a cheesy sauce. I don’t mean to disrespect this preparation, because it actually has its attractions. It can be a very comforting, lower calorie replacement to the ubiquitous mashed potato. But like it’s crucifer cousins, broccoli and cabbage– long, slow, wet cooking methods transform these vegetables. They begin to take on a creamy quality, even when there is no cream involved.
But add a little cream and cauliflower melds and mellows in a very unctuous way. It is prized for the nuanced flavor and rich nutty notes it brings to these preparations. Chefs such a Thomas Keller are elevating its status and preparing it in dishes like panna cotta with beluga caviar.
So I want to encourage you to get creative with your cauliflower too. You don’t have to have the skills of a master like Mr. Keller either.
For me, when I want to get personal with a particular food, I look to its roots for inspiration. Before the 1600’s cauliflower cultivation in the west was pretty much restricted to Italy.
Sicilian Style Cauliflower
So, I have decided to give an Italian flair to my cauliflower. Of course Italian cooking varies from region to region. But to my taste buds, Sicilian cooking is comparatively unique. Here at Sippity Sup we strive to be unique, so we turn specifically to the island at the tip of Italy’s boot. And please don’t discount this recipe because of the anchovies, and don’t leave them out either. They really are more of a seasoning here.
So if you’re one of those “I don’t like anchovies” types. I think you’ll be surprised by this recipe. Because you don’t really taste them in the way you might expect. But they are essential to its success. I can’t explain it but anchovies transform this cauliflower without making themselves known hardly at all.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 2 clv garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 6 anchovy fillets
- 1⁄2 c olive oil
- 1⁄2 lemon juice and zest, separated
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1⁄2 c seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1⁄2 c water
Preheat oven to 425. Wash, dry, and remove any of the outer leaves from the cauliflower. Detach the stem by making a cone-shaped cut into the bottom of the cauliflower, and break the cauliflower up into large florets, following its natural stem pattern as much as possible. This will yield a variety of sizes. Use you judgment about further cuts, but each piece should be about 1 to 3 bites.
Using a mini food processor, pulse the garlic and anchovies until chunky. With the machine running add 1/4 cup of the olive oil using the drip tube in until a creamy paste is achieved. Pulse in the juice and set aside.
In a large bowl add cauliflower and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, Toss with the anchovy mixture, tossing to coat all the florets very evenly. Pour the coated cauliflower into a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold it all in one layer. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the top, then drizzle with the remaining 1/4‑cup olive oil.
Put it in oven and until roast until golden brown, approximately 12–15 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, lower heat to 350, and continue cooking for 30–35 minutes, until tender. Remove from oven, place on a large platter. Serves four.